The Emperium Frontier – a contest of skill and strength, where guilds the world over compete for the precious Emperium Stones that signify power and glory. Backed by the popular Kafra Corporation, and spearheaded by the sprightly yet eccentric Kafra Nora and her "krew", the Emperium Frontier has reached phenomenal levels of renown, for numerous guilds fought tooth and nail in order to call themselves the best.

One of the fiercest guilds ever known throughout Rune-Midgarts is a team of warrior women known as the Battle Vixens. Led by the fiery knight Lupi, her headstrong nature and gung-ho attitude has been the impetus behind many of the guild's successful battles. Her sisters Aege, Elua, and Heal-Do comprise the guild's elite, and for a time, they were virtually infallible… until one year ago, the entire paradigm would shift entirely.

The newly-formed White Trinity guild, led by the skilled Ray Kaza, a rare master of blade and gun, took it upon himself and his friend and brother, Lee, a Monk from Saint Capitolina, to raise their banner and strike back at this seemingly-invincible band of femme fatales – but not without a little edge. It was with the timely arrival of the Wizard, Thiji Higuri, and the Shinobi Raien Kotetsu - two brothers who seemed foreign to Rune-Midgarts - that White Trinity was born, and through their wisdom, courage, and skill were they able to fend off and beat back the Battle Vixens on several skirmishes.

The decisive victories throughout Rune-Midgarts have encouraged other guilds to emulate White Trinity's efforts, sending a powerful message that these warrior women are not as invincible as everyone was led to believe. One such guild stood out amongst the others – the Holy Saviors. These servants of the Church of Odin have stood defiant against the Battle Vixens for many months, though their efforts bore little fruit until White Trinity's arrival, which inspired their hearts and minds. Led by the Crusader, Youmei, whom was once the Swordswoman that fought off the Vixens on several occasions, she had worked tirelessly in her training to take up the mantle of Commander. Backed by the twins, Botan & Momiji, as well as Tsubaki, a Witch who balances light and darkness, the Holy Saviors quickly rose to becoming the third major power in the Emperium Frontier, now matched in strength and skill with the other two guilds.

The cunning machinations of Nora and her Kafra Krew ensured each of the three elite guilds received fame and glory throughout the land, with the conflict thus far resulting in a "land divided into three." To the north, the Holy Saviors were successful in usurping the Emperium Fortress from White Trinity, which marked their first major victory against the Battle Vixens. To the southeast, the warrior women were given the Emerald Emperium through a ploy devised by Thiji, whom exchanged it for the Sapphire Emperium housed within Britoniah, near Geffen territory. Along with the Sapphire Emperium, White Trinity seized the Citrine Emperium deep within the Sograt Desert to the southwest. Equilibrium was maintained, with White Trinity having a slight advantage.

Mysterious happenings occurred, however, when arcane anomalies were beginning to form as the Emperium Frontier unfolded, resulting in increased monster activity and natural phenomena. A yearlong hiatus took place following the Battle of Britoniah, and during that time the guilds loyally serving under the banners of the three highly acclaimed groups took it upon themselves to safeguard each guild's respective territories as they awaited the inevitable day the Emperium Frontier would re-open. The guild's elite took advantage of this lull to hone their own skills and reach new heights of power. Whether it was discovery through adventure, looking within oneself, or a simple contest of might, The Trinities, Vixens, and Saviors prepared themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually for the obstacles ahead.

The year now passed, the call had sounded, and the adventurers have finished their preparations. Civilians and soldiers alike waited feverishly for any updates of the Emperium Frontier's opening – never in Rune-Midgarts's history was an event so highly anticipated. Far to the northwest, beyond the peaks the Mt. Mjolnir, pillars of light shot up into the heavens – the wait was finally over.

The twin-tailed blonde Kafra, Curly Sue, witnessed this phenomena, and nearly jumped in surprise. The sheer awe of the sight left her body frozen in place for a few short seconds until she regained her composure. Without another thought, she bolted south down a bridge over a large ravine, nearly tripping several times in the process. She would continue her flight for miles until Curly Sue would eventually arrive in Aldebaran.

"Hey, isn't that Curly Sue?" asked one of the guards at the northern gate as he pointed out the sprinting Kafra.

"I think that is, actually…" replied his companion. He tried to stop her with an outstretched arm, to which she would coast to a halt several feet before the gate. "What's the commotion, Miss Curly Sue? Another monster attack?"

"No, gentlemen – even bigger!" she replied behind panted breaths, but wasted no time resuming her flight as she lightly pushed the guards aside and continued into the city. "You'll have to excuse me! This is important! Thank you for choosing the Kafra Corporation's services…!"

As the guards stared at each other, dumbfounded, Curly Sue made her way to a large building that bore the Kafra Corporation's symbol. With reckless abandon, she stormed through the doors – almost tripping over in the process - and would find the rest of her colleagues lounging about in the lobby.

"Hey, Sue. What's the matter?" asked Pavianne.

"I gotta see Nora!" she immediately replied, barely taking the time to catch her breath. "It's… it's time!"

The rest of the Kafra Krew exchanged shocked glares at each other before refocusing on Curly Sue, hoping the next words that would escape her lips were precisely what they expected.

"The Emperium Frontier has returned!"

Commotion filled the headquarters as the Kafra Krew and their many aproned associates scrambled to prepare for the continuation of the biggest contest that stormed the nation. Kafra Glaris began going over plans according to the information provided by her colleague, using large maps of the world and pinpointing the approximate areas where the beams of light had emerged; Kafra Blossom hurriedly wrote down the minutes of their impromptu meeting…

"Kafra Nora!" Pavianne shouted, looking around frantically while trying to avoid bumping into her fellow workers. "Has anyone seen Kafra Nora?!"

Kafra Curly Sue – still winded from her trek – dashed straight for the clock tower in the center of town to alert the citizens.

"Gotta… wake… the city…!" she said to herself, gasping for air.

After several minutes looking around, Pavianne managed to find her quarry – in her executive room. The lights were off making the window on the far end, where Kafra Nora was standing, the only source of illumination, staring out of said window with arms folded behind her back. She kept her gaze on Curly Sue as she made her way up the clock tower.

"Kafra… Nora?" Pavianne uttered as she slowly entered the room.

"Don't worry, Pav," Nora said in a calm voice. Pavianne was somewhat shocked to hear her team leader speak in such a tone. Usually Nora would spot a much more energetic demeanor. The year spent waiting in suspense and anticipation must have affected her in such a way that when she saw her colleague sprinting into headquarters, there was no doubt in her mind that the wait had finally been over.

A smile would appear on her face she turned around to face Pavianne. "Things were startin' to get borin' around here! Let's give our fans what they want, shall we?"

"Yes, ma'am!" cried Pavianne with enthusiasm, rendering a salute before bolting out the room to meet her colleagues. Kafra Nora turned back to the window, that smile still made apparent on her face.

"Hope you're ready, boys. It's been a whole year since y'all fought your rivals. Better give 'em a show the likes of which has never been seen!"

Nora decided to do her part and made a few calls while the Kafra Corporation was hard at work getting everything – and everyone -ready. In the Land of Snow, a certain familiar figure was lounging in his quarters, watching the northern lights pass by...

A light knock was then heard on his chamber doors. He would approach and open the doors to reveal a handmaiden in pure white, the top half of her face obscured by a veil.

"Prime Minister Higuri? The Snow Flower requests an audience with you," spoke the handmaiden in a pillowy soft voice. Thiji Higuri, Prime Minister of Yukigakure, was called upon by Koyuki Kazahana for an urgent message. Hoping for some good news, he graciously accepted and made his way down to the throne room, remembering the secret passage on the far end.

Before he would enter, however, he would hear a sharp whistling sound in the wind. As it drew closer, Thiji rose his left hand in the air and caught a sharp object between his middle and index fingers. Turning around for a brief moment, the Prime Minister would survey his surroundings, finding the throne room completely empty. When he turned back around, however, he would see a figure donning golden-yellow Shinobi attire, complete with a sakkat bearing the symbol of his nation. The figure rose his head to reveal himself as none other than Raien Kotetsu, Thiji's older brother and Ninja of the Clouds.

"Good to see you again, bro!" Raien greeted with a smile.

"You'd be paying for the damages if this shuriken actually struck something," the Prime Minister said with his usual snark.

"Come on! I counted on you to catch that thing!" Raien retorted, taking off his headgear. "That's no way to greet a brother after a long year of waiting!"

The two gave a hearty laugh and shook each other's hands, happy to see themselves hale before entering the secret passage, where they would find the beautiful and shining star of Yukigakure – Princess Koyuki Kazahana. They would be greeted with a bow as they crossed the threshold, the room illuminating with a soft, blue light as a detailed holographic map of Rune-Midgarts activated in the center.

"My lords – it is so great to see you well!" the princess greeted in her usual happy manner. "Her Majesty has just returned with an update on Rune-Midgarts!"

The two brothers exchanged looks – both bearing a hopeful countenance. It had been over a year since anything interesting occurred short of a conflict or two emerging amongst the guilds. With this knowledge, Thiji turned back to Koyuki as she activated a holographic map of the land.

"So Madam Shuji… she -?" the Prime Minister started before Koyuki responded with a nod.

"Yes! She has already relayed the information to the Queen – the Emperium Frontier has returned!" Koyuki explained. Raien celebrated a silent fist bump as a light grin appeared on Thiji's face. They approached the map to get a closer look as several dots appeared, designating key locations and POIs (Places of Interest).

"I recall Madam Shuji mentioning something going on within the regions north of Rune-Midgarts," Thiji addressed as he inspected the various dots.

"You'd be correct, my lord!" Koyuki acknowledged. "One of Nora's fellow Kafra employees reported a massive energy signature coming from the northern reaches of the land – there were several beams of light spotted in various locations! She fled to Aldebaran to relay this information!"

"Aldebaran? You mean the Red giant in the constellation of Taurus?" Thiji interrupted. Koyuki chuckled and shook her head.

"No, my lord – the city is named Aldebaran! It is the home of the Kafra Corporation and a neutral city bordering the Rune-Midgarts Kingdom and the Republic of Schwarzwald!" the princess explained further. "The myriad guilds rallied under the banner of the Big Three have waged small wars amongst one another to maintain control over the existing territories! Thankfully none belonging to White Trinity have been taken during your absence!"

"We can thank Ray and Lee for that, at least," Raien confided. After giving the familiar city-states on the map a glance, the Ninja focused heavily on the icons resembling the coat of arms of a two-headed eagle, and an ornate crest. "With this reopening, the fighting should cease within the Rune-Midgarts territories. I know the capital of Rune-Midgarts is Prontera… but I know nothing about this Schwarzwald Republic place. I didn't even know the world was that big!"

"From what I was given, the capital of Schwarzwald is a floating city known as Juno, City of Sages," Koyuki said. Raien's eyes immediately became wide at the mention of a floating city high above the clouds – his home territory.

"Oh, well that was easy. Now we just need a way to actually get up there!" the Ninja pondered. Knowing the technology of their world, Thiji immediately figured a possible solution, but waited for Koyuki to provide an answer. She gave him a smile, knowing full well what she was going to say next.

"You will be heading there via airship!" she responded. "There is an international airport which takes passengers from Rune-Midgarts to Juno! You can access it from Izlude! Miss
Nora has already secured your flight north! From there you can take to the skies and make your way to the City of Sages, where the next part of the Emperium Frontier will take place!"

"We'll make preparations and leave as soon as we can!" Raien said, giving a short bow and making his way out of the war room. Thiji would follow suit, until he was stopped by the Snow Flower, who presented a familiar item to the Prime Minister. It was Icerend, Legendary Halberd of the North. A sentient weapon forged from incredibly rare materials, meant only for those it deemed worthy to wield. Taking it in his hand, Thiji felt a great chill course through him. It was a welcoming cold, and very different from his previous attempts at touching the weapon. This time, it accepted Thiji. It was time that Icerend served a master, and it would join Thiji in their maiden voyage into Schwarzwald. There were no words to be spoken – a warm smile from Koyuki was all he received, and he would respond in kind with a low bow. With Icerend now in his possession, the odds would swing heavily in his favor; it was time for battle once more.

Following his brother out the back of the palace, the churning portal still active, Raien glanced over his weapon to pass the time: the pair of kunai he once wielded was now replaced with a Shinobigatana with a golden blade, and the symbol of his village etched along both sides of the hilt. His lion appeared as well, sporting a gold-and-black mane and fiery-red eyes. Its low growling was a sign that she, too, was anxious for battle. After waiting for a few moments, Thiji would finally arrive with his new weapon in hand…

Raien: Finally got it, I see – Icerend.

Thiji: Indeed. I wonder if Ray and Lee received any upgrades.

Raien: We'll find out shortly. If I remember right, this should take us outside Prontera. Hopefully Nora will be there waiting for us.

Thiji: We can only hope. We'll rendezvous with the others, head to Izlude, and begin our flight to Juno.

With their plans now set, it was time to return to Rune-Midgarts.

"Best of luck, my lords, in this new and improved Emperium Frontier!" Koyuki thought as she watched the two cross the threshold.

Meanwhile, in the Forest City of Payon, a certain Knight was seen lounging in the city square with a lightly-clothed individual. The sounds of Merchants peddling their wares and forest creatures filled the air. The Knight seemed bored as he was making a gun with his fingers and quietly shooting at the occasional birds flying overhead. The Monk was right beside him, deep into his meditation. Amidst the crowd was the adorable Kafra Curly Sue, weaving through traffic with a sealed note clasped between her index finger and thumb. Finally catching a glimpse of the two individuals as none other than Ray Kaza and Lee, Curly Sue dashed over to them…

"Man… I can never… seem to catch a break today!" Curly Sue huffed. "But it's totally worth it, because I got some news for you two!"

"Please let it be the Emperium Frontier. Please let it be the Emperium Frontier…" chanted Ray. Lee broke from his meditation and rose to receive the letter before thanking Curly Sue. After reading its contents, he turned to Ray…

"Looks like we're needed in Izlude – Kafra Nora says the Emperium Frontier's back," the now-Champion relayed. Lee wasn't quiet about it, it seemed, as a collective gasp was heard amongst the citizens, followed by silence. Curly Sue looked around and noticed the sudden calm, and after a long moment, the next sound heard in the air was a loud cheer from Ray as he jumped to his feet and shot his fist in the air.

"White Trinity is back in action, baby! It's time to take the fight back to the frontlines and stake our claim in history!" the Gun-Knight declared. Murmurs began to bloom amongst the crowd as they were awestruck by the presence of the two legendary warriors. The murmurs then gave way to applause as they cheered on Ray and Lee, quickly making their way out of the city.

"Mister Ray! Mister Lee! Wait!" cried Curly Sue before heaving a long sigh. "I… could have just teleported you there…!"

Back in the fields of Prontera, Thiji and Raien would emerge. Keeping true to their objective, the two made their way across the vast plains until Izlude would eventually be seen upon the horizon. When they were within hailing distance of the Satellite City, they would be greeted by a warp portal. Stepping out of it was Kafra Curly Sue…

Curly Sue: Mister Thiji! Mister Raien! I'm glad I caught you two!

Raien: Oh, hey, Kafra… uh, which one were you again?

Thiji: Kafra Curly Sue.

Curly Sue, puffing her cheek in annoyance: I'm not hard to tell from the others, you know! Who else wears twin ponytails like me?

Raien: Sorry, you all look alike wearing that apron.

Curly Sue: Uniform!

Thiji: Er, anyway, Miss Curly Sue, what did you need from us?

Curly Sue: Your friends Ray and Lee are on the way. I tried to stop them from leaving Payon, but when I delivered the letter from Kafra Nora they bolted out of the city before I could provide a teleportation service!

Thiji: He is definitely itching to return to the front…

Familiar Voice: Don't worry, Curly Sue! I got it all taken care of!

Another warp portal appeared by Curly Sue, causing her to jump in fright. Out from the portal stepped Kafra Nora, with Ray and Lee in tow.

Curly Sue: K-Kafra Nora!

Nora: Hey, there, everybody! I found your lost buddies!

Ray & Lee: Thiji! Raien!

The Gun-Knight and the Champion rushed over and hugged their old friends, happy to reunite with them once more. Nora and Curly Sue gave a chuckle and watched on.

Ray: Man, you guys have missed out on so much!

Thiji: Have we, now?

Lee: Sure have, Mister High Wizard!

Raien: I didn't miss out on too much, I hope.

Ray: No, but – wait… you have a lion?

Raien: Yup! I call her Thunderhorse.

Ray: But… it's a lion.

Raien: I know, but I've already given her the name, and she happens to love it!

Lee: Won't argue with you there. Any help is appreciated!

Nora: Looks like y'all have been busy over the past year! I've got a lot to tell y'all while we head up north!

Thiji: That reminds me, Kafra Nora: whom is our pilot for this flight?

Nora: Well, you're lookin' at her!

The boys save Thiji arched a brow, sensing something amiss.

Lee: Ma'am, can… you even fly an airship?

Nora: 'Course I can! And the helmsman area is perfectly concealed so no one'll know a Kafra was helpin' y'all out!

Curly Sue: Our fearless leader thinks of everything! We commissioned a special dirigible just for White Trinity! We expect a smooth flight to Juno!

Thiji: Splendid. Let's continue into the city and make our way there.

Handing the boys their vouchers, Nora beckoned them over as she led everyone into Izlude. A large technological marvel of an airship could be visibly seen from anywhere in the city, bearing the symbol of White Trinity – three white hearts - on both sides of the hull. Thiji was scanning the area for anything suspicious, which caught the eye of Raien, curious as to why his brother was on high alert…

"You all right, man?" the Ninja asked.

"I'm fine. I'm just… on guard," the High Wizard answered. "It's a little too quiet for my taste, is all."

"They may have not heard the news yet! Don't sweat it, bro!" Raien reassured with a pat on Thiji's back. If there was one thing he learned from the time spent in this land it was that news spreads like wildfire thanks to the combined efforts of the Kafra Corporation and the deeds performed by the famous guilds. They had received the occasional cheer and adoration from the citizens, but nothing out of the ordinary was made apparent.

Curly Sue, White Trinity, and Nora would eventually reach the docks, where the bridge to their airship was laid out. Before they boarded, Nora stopped right on the bridge and faced White Trinity…

"Welcome, White Trinity, to your private airship, the Shinin' Heart!" she greeted. "Our flight is currently bound for Juno, City 'o' Sages! My name is Nora, and my assistant Curly Sue will be assistin' you on this flight today! We expect a smooth and safe trip north, with occasional turbulence here 'n' there as clouds begin rollin' in! While on this flight, please keep your arms and legs in the dirigible at all times! Once we reach cruisin' levels, you may feel free to move about the cabin or above deck as you see fit! For any questions, feel free to ask myself or Kafra Curly Sue for any assistance! Once again, welcome aboard the Shinin' Heart, and we thank you for choosin' the Kafra Corporation!"

After giving her (seemingly rehearsed) speech, Nora and Curly Sue went on board the airship, with White Trinity following close by. Thiji would feel a tug on his cape, causing him to turn around to find a crowd of citizens waving farewell to the High Wizard. Right by him was a young girl – no older than 7 or 8 – reaching up to his waist.

"Mister Thiji?" spoke the child in a soft voice. "I'm sorry for your loss at Geffen. I know that won't stop you; my parents tell me you're smart as heck!"

This brought a smile on the young man's face. The Emperium Frontier became more than just a competition of fame and glory. It brought people together, and inspired numerous other adventurers and citizens alike to achieve great deeds - what was once a contest soon turned into a belief that touched all who bore witness to the conflict. For a young girl to be inspired meant a lot to Thiji; he would do his best not to let his public down.

He dropped to a knee and laid a gentle hand upon her head, giving the girl a grin.

"Thank you, young one," he spoke. "Your words mean much to me – more than you know. We promise to bring you a spectacle you'll tell your grandchildren."

Thiji reassured the young girl with a hug and made his way down the gangplank, the cheers and applause of the citizens of Izlude at his back. Heading below decks, the men of White Trinity made themselves comfortable as they inspected the inside of the ship. Ray was absolutely stunned at the amount of ammunition, Ninja weapons and consumables stocked amongst the shelves; enough stock to supply a store! Thiji surmised that these supplies were issued specifically for White Trinity for their journey into unknown territories, which would not be too farfetched to believe. The boys would then feel the ship beginning to rumble…

"Hang on tight, boys!" spoke Nora over the intercom. "We're about to take off! Hope you said your final farewells, because we're off to the heavens!"

As Nora and Curly Sue began to lift the ship from the water and finally into the air, the elite of White Trinity took this time to catch up on things until they reached cruising levels…

Ray: So, yeah - you're not gonna believe what happened!

Thiji: You've a story to share?

Ray: Yeah, so check this out: we got these cool new weapons from a tournament, right? And Lee and I were stomping the competition laterally and vertically!

Lee: But things got real because we were so consumed by all the hype that we didn't realize we would eventually face each other in the finals.

Raien: That had to have been jarring for sure.

Lee: It was. It took a little pep talk from Youmei to remind us that we were brothers in the end, and though we still gave each other our best, we gave quite a show! Nora was loving every second of it.

Thiji: We actually know of this already.

Ray: What? H-How did you -?

Thiji & Raien: Nora.

Lee: Wow… that woman really gets around. Anyway, what about you two? You're a High Wizard and a… High… Ninja?

Raien: Correct.

Lee: Oh. I just made that up.

Raien: Well, the politically correct name for it is Jonin.

Lee: "Jonin…" got it.

Ray: any cool new weapons you two found?

Thiji: Not necessarily "found," but moreso earned.

Thiji and Raien "call" forth their respective weapons, which left Ray and Lee awestruck.

Ray: What the -?

Lee: A Ninja sword and a halberd?!

Thiji: It's actually a staff. A very powerful one, at that.

Ray: Looks like you'll be the one to beat, my boy! With something like that in your hands it'll be hard to keep up!

Thiji, chuckling lightly: No, no, my role in White Trinity has always been of the strategist. Direct conflict is only a last resort.

Ray: Good point – the guild owes much and more to you and Raien for your timely arrival a year back! We would be half as successful without you two!

Thiji: Careful, Ray. The last thing we need after coming back from hiatus is Raien's ego inflating.

Raien: Silence yourself, brother! He's only stating the truth!

The four boys laughed heartily before sitting down and relaxing. The flight was pleasant with the occasional bump due to turbulence, but the four passed the time regaling each other with their own stories and reminiscing the times they spent together as the Emperium Frontier started. Though the competition was far from reaching its conclusion anytime soon, the events have transpired was a stark reminder as to how far they have gotten since their fated meeting in Prontera.

From the confusion of the Clock Tower Managers in Comodo Beach to the chase along the Sograt Desert, to even the emergence of the Holy Saviors and their repeated attempts at thwarting the Battle Vixens – no memory was too insignificant – as if they were reliving those moments inside their heads…

Several long moments of chatting later, Kafra Nora gave Curly Sue the signal to make her way below decks, where she politely informed White Trinity that they have finally reached a comfortable altitude for cruising. As if on cue, Ray and Lee immediately hopped out of their seats and ran upstairs, nearly trampling her in the process. Raien followed suit, leaving Thiji last to arrive above deck. All that they saw were a wondrous expanse of blue and white as they felt the cool air upon their faces. The sun, in all its radiant glory, ascended the heavens and broke through the clouds – a perfect morning for air travel. The view was beyond comprehension as the cities and islands could be seen below them. Ray and Lee were like children, experiencing the rush from being so high above ground for the first time in their lives. Raien and Thiji, however, were astonished by the scenery, but were not as ecstatic in their countenances.

It was calm and peaceful up in the heavens; not a single vessel in sight save their own. While the others watched the clouds roll by, Thiji would make his way to the bridge where Nora and Curly Sue were piloting the ship. They were inspecting a map of Rune-Midgarts when the High Wizard arrived; from what he saw, it would appear that they are within minutes of exiting the kingdom's airspace…

Nora: Hey, Thiji! Enjoyin' the flight? We're right on schedule!

Curly Sue: We'll be arriving in Juno within two hours!

Thiji: Excellent news, ladies. And might I say that it is a pleasant surprise to have you accompanying us, Kafra Curly Sue.

Curly Sue: Well, it certainly is a nice change of pace after running around all day! I could become an athlete when I retire!

Nora: You've definitely been doin' a lot today! I thought it was fair for you to enjoy a nice, relaxin' ride! (To Thiji) But I'm sure you didn't come here to just ask the time 'o' day!

Thiji: You'd be correct. I figured since we'll be on this flight for a while that I should gather more information on the new territory. Provided, of course, you ladies discovered anything over the past year.

Curly Sue: Oh, we discovered lots! You tell us what you want to know and we'll give you all the backstory you need!

Nora: Ya sure about this, Sue?

Curly Sue: Positive! I wouldn't be part of your Krew if I wasn't capable!

Nora gave a grin as she turned back to the screen and began pressing a series of buttons, causing the on-screen map to scroll up to an entirely new region, though the layout was similar to the map Thiji and Raien inspected back home. It almost felt like yesterday in the Emperium Pyramid when Thiji was setting up defenses with Kafra Nora…

Curly Sue: As you already know from Kafra Nora, The Schwarzwald Republic is the country located far to the North, beyond the boundaries of the Rune-Midgarts Kingdom. Aldebaran serves as a sort of border town that is completely neutral, as it was built between both countries.

Nora: Main areas of interest include the Alchemist Guild, Kafra Corporation HQ, Great Novice Society, and the Clock Tower!

Thiji: Clock Tower? Like those Keepers we encountered so long ago?

Nora: Bingo! O' course, things are a lot tamer in the canal city. If you wanna pursue the strange science of Alchemy, then Aldebaran's the place to be! And they are nasty in a fight! I hear they can actually destroy people's equipment!

Thiji: How… lethal. You mentioned a Great Novice Society?

Nora: Oh, yeah! Y'see, it was made a long time ago by a man named Mister Kimu Shawn. He wanted to become a jack of all trades 'cause he didn't stay in one place for long. He supposedly became the greatest ordinary man ever known and decided to share his principles 'o' mediocrity with the rest 'o' the world and created the Great Novice Society – a place where Novices who don't wanna stick to one career path can join and instead become Super Novices!

Thiji, after an awkward pause: … What?

Nora: Super Novices! They can do anything a Thief, Magician, Swordsman, Acolyte, Merchant, and Archer can do! They even have their own unique cart for sellin' things!

Thiji: That is surprisingly impressive.

Curly Sue: But getting back on track, the Republic of Schwarzwald is also very technologically-advanced compared to the more medieval Rune-Midgarts. They are home to guilds that train Gunslingers and Blacksmiths.

Thiji: Gunslingers and Blacksmiths? That's interesting considering how Ray never even mentioned this country.

Nora: He musta thought the same thing as Raien did when I met y'all a while back: he wasn't aware 'o' there bein' another country, but was more than eager to learn the way 'o' the Gunslinger after goin' to Prontera to train as a Knight!

Thiji: That makes sense. Maybe he found a gun one day at a shop and taught himself how to use it.

Nora: Sounds plausible, dear!

Curly Sue: We weren't able to pinpoint the exact locations of the energy signatures that appeared in this new land, but we've deduced that they are near the cities of Einbroch, Lighthalzen, and Hugel.

Thiji: And what of Juno? What can you tell me about that city?

Curly Sue: The capital? Well, firstly, the Republic of Schwarzwald was founded about four hundred years ago when the Rekenber Corporation was established.

The screen brings up images depicting a massive floating city and the Schwarzwald crest emblazoned upon the town square.

Curly Sue: The floating city of Juno is a marvel of strange and ancient powers which has attracted the eyes of many a scholar. Because of this, it was dubbed the nickname "City of the Wise One," or "City of Sages" as it is also the headquarters for the Sage Guild.

Nora: And Sage is another path a Magician can take!

Thiji: Yes, they are in-tuned with the world and its essence, and can even bolster their own allies and hinder enemies.

Curly Sue: In Juno, there is an age-old tradition where the three best and brightest Sages are chosen to represent each of the three islands which make up the floating city. These three islands are known as Solomon, Northern Island of Glory; Snotora, Eastern Island of Intelligence, and Mineta, Central Island of Prosperity. We will be making port in Mineta, where the citizenry reside.

Thiji: Is the Gateway to the Schwarzwald Republic only accessible by air?

Curly Sue: Good question, Mister Thiji! There is actually another way to reach Juno, and it's on land!

Nora pushes a button and brings up the image of a large bridge connecting to the city from the outskirts.

Curly Sue: This expanse of dry and rocky terrain you see on-screen is the El Mes Plateau, the highlands over which we'll be flying. This is the main method of travel on land to get to Juno as there's a very long bridge connecting the plateau to the city.

Thiji: Fascinating. So there is only one point of entry and egress. You mentioned the Rekenber Corporation - who or what are they?

Nora: I got this one, Susie. Take five.

Curly Sue: Yes, ma'am!

The teal Kafra presses a few buttons, dismissing the previous images and enlarging new ones showing a logo – undoubtedly the company in question's, as well as a shining city with what a golden building being most prominent.

Nora: We'll start at the beginnin'. Rekenber Corp. isn't all it's cracked up to be. Some hate that they unofficially control Schwarzwald while others are indifferent. They're the biggest corporation in the whole country, and are responsible for numerous technological breakthroughs over the years. Some include the Strahlenstein Steam Engine, and the Airship, much like the one we're ridin' on now.

Thiji: They don't seem so bad… and they also constructed the Guardians as well, correct?

Nora: Right – the first artificial life forms in Midgard.

Thiji: They tapped into the secrets of life?

Nora: Yup! They were originally called the Zenit Zerter Lighthal Research Center, named after the corporation's first chairman.

Thiji: That explains the city's name. With this knowledge, this must mean that Lighthalzen is their base of operations?

Nora: Correct! Rekenber has a huge amount 'o' influence and responsibility in this city. They had to regulate the movement of their own employees and darn near every citizen because of it.

Curly Sue: However, Rekenber Corporation has a great reputation for their non-discriminatory employment policy which can allow every citizen to partake in the success of the city! (Annoyed) But the source of our disdain comes from Zonda Corp.

Thiji: The "Cool Event Organization?"

Curly Sue: Yes. They only got to where they are today thanks to backing from Rekenber. So you're not the only ones waging a war. We of the Kafra Corporation have to come to blows with these guys as well.

Nora: We'll show 'em up, Sue! (To Thiji) Y'all just do what y'all do best and everyone'll want to seek out our services!

Thiji: Can do, Kafra Nora. But that was a lot to digest, so I think I'm done with getting information.

Nora: No problem, sweetie! Glad we could help!

Curly Sue walked over to the console while Nora and Thiji conversed amongst themselves. She noticed something that didn't seem very alarming, but thought that they should be informed.

Curly Sue: Uh, Miss Nora? You might want to look at this. I'm getting something from the radar…

Nora turned on her heel and went back to her seat to look at the system, noticing several dots were appearing on the radar. The High Wizard made his way back down to the deck of the airship to alert his comrades, asking to accompany him to the bridge. As they made their way back, Curly Sue and Nora were counting the increasing number of dots on the radar…

Nora: Thirteen… fourteen… twenty?!

Curly Sue: What could this mean?

Ray: What's up, girls? Is everything okay?

Curly Sue: Well, we're not sure what to tell you… we're picking up an increasing number of airships coming in hot!

Raien: I'm going to go to a higher altitude and check. Thunderhorse, stay here.

The Ninja left the bridge and took to the heavens, disappearing amidst the cloud cover…

Lee: Well, it looks like we're not alone, that's for sure. I don't think they're all fans trying to get a front-row seat, either.

Nora: What in the…? They just keep pourin' into the radar! This wasn't expected at all!

Thiji: I knew it was too quiet up here in the clouds. But whatever it is, we're not on top of them… but quite the contrary.

Lee: What do you mean?

At a moment's notice, off the starboard bow was a flaming dirigible plummeting to the earth below. This sudden occurrence caused Nora to veer over to the left to avoid crashing into the wreckage, as everyone let out startled cries in response to the sudden jerking of the ship.

Curly Sue: Oh, my goodness! What was that?!

Ray: Thiji, why is it always that when you have a bad feeling about something, it's guaranteed to happen?!

Thiji: Tactician's intuition. Right now it is telling me that –

Before Thiji would finish his sentence, Raien would appear back on the bridge beside his lion.

Raien: There's a bunch of airships out there, firing guns, magic, and who knows what else. I couldn't get a good count on all of them or I'd have risked being spotted, but I think we're flying straight into –

Thiji: - a battle zone.

Curly Sue: B-B-Battle zone?! (To Nora) Ma'am, we didn't prepare for this! This is a vessel suited for transport, not combat!

Nora: You're right – we didn't... contact the rest 'o' the Krew. We'll need to get through this airspace to get to Juno. Boys, I hope you brought your weapons!

Lee: It's gonna be difficult fighting things in midair.

Ray: We have all those supplies below decks; I can pick off anyone that gets too close! And we have that lion here to bring the thunder, and Thiji here to cast spells! We'll be fine!

Thiji: We need not engage into a full-scale conflict so quickly. We don't know if anyone up there is friendly to our guild. We should use the cloud cover to our advantage and clear as much distance between us and the fight as we can.

Raien: Thunderhorse and I can take care of that. Ready, girl?

The lion nodded and followed her master out to the deck, concentrating their energy on the surrounding environment. A few moments later, the entire area was veiled in a dense fog – a cloud taking the shape of the vessel provided them with a sort of camouflage.

Nora, snapping her fingers: Nice one, Raien! With this, we should be able to fly right past 'em!

Thiji: Keep us in cruise control for now, Kafra Nora. If we go too fast, we might attract attention.

Lee: What should Ray and I do?

Thiji: Lee, if we have to engage in battle, you'll be in charge of defending the deck from invaders. Ray, has your aim improved at all?

Ray: Has it? I practiced for hours a day up to this point! I could hit a fly from a hundred yards with a sniper rifle!

Thiji: Good to hear. If we have to, shoot any vessels out of the sky and provide cover fire for Raien while he takes them out on his own.

Ray: Sounds good, Strategist!

Nora: Leave the piloting to me and Curly Sue! But try not to stir too much of a fuss, you hear? This baby ain't that durable! And remember: so long as they don't know we're the ones flyin' this thing, they'll be none the wiser about the Kafra Corp. helpin' y'all out!

Curly Sue: I'll keep an eye on the radar for you, Kafra Nora!

With a nod, Ray and Lee went below decks to prepare themselves for a fight. The sound of roaring engines and spells blasting were made apparent as they flew further into the battle zone. The resulting commotion frightened Curly Sue, but Nora reassured her with a smile and a pat on the back, calming her nerves and keeping her eye on the radar, watching the various signals coming and going – some occasionally disappearing from the display. The intermittent sound of flaming wreckage plummeting from the heavens was testament to this. She was definitely not expecting to get involved in a battle, but the prospect of coming out of one with all her limbs attached would definitely score her some points against the others.

Meanwhile, amidst the heart of the firefight, a large vessel oversaw the ongoing conflict, bearing the emblem of a multicolored, exploding star. An Elven woman with braided green hair was seen on the deck, leaning over the starboard bow as she lazily nocked arrows at encroaching enemies. Off the port bow was another Elven lady with deep blue eyes like the limitless heavens, and hair of similar color tied into a ponytail. Unlike her green-eyed counterpart (not meaning jealousy in this context), she was actually expending effort striking at enemy forces with throwing knives, carefully-timed marks hitting home with each throw, incapacitating her unlucky adversaries…

"What a bore… We waited a whole year just for this?" yawned the green-haired Elf as she loosed an arrow behind her without turning, striking an invading knight's helmet and sending him into the clouds below. "I was hoping the journey to Schwarzwald would be more exciting!"

"What do you mean?" asked the blue-haired Elf, crossing blades with a Blacksmith who struck upon her with his axe. In one fluid motion, she deflected the blade and kicked the man in the face with finesse, forcing him off the side of the ship to join the knight who recently fell. "You should feel at home up here! Way up in the clouds, with the wind all around!"

The green-haired Elf then turned over on her back, gazing at the scene upside-down whilst spells of various elements were being flung her way, but horribly missing each time, completely unfazed at how close they flew past her face as they continued.

"Yeah, but why go through all the trouble? It's hard to enjoy a nice flight when you got these guys ruining the fun…" the green-haired Sniper yawned again as she witnessed a smaller vessel getting struck by what looked like the wing of an avian creature. The balloon was compromised and sent the dirigible and its passengers plummeting before the winged creature flew away. It was then that the Elf noticed one of the clouds was moving slightly faster than the others. It intrigued her enough to command her attention, her ears twitching slightly with anticipation. She pointed at the cloud slowly, silently ordering the winged created to fly towards it.

Meanwhile, within said cloud…

Curly Sue: Uh, gentlemen? I'm picking up something on the radar – it's coming in fast and hot!

Raien: Shit! Did they spot us already?!

Ray: What now, Thiji?

The High Wizard pondered for a backup plan as quickly as he could, but it would prove unneeded as bright lights pierced through the thin veil of vapor, followed by a loud screeching noise and the beating of wings. Whatever was going to assail them was intercepted by something – or someone else.

Curly Sue: It's leaving now! The enemy is retreating!

Lee: You can drive things away just by thinking now? Is there no limit to your intellectual prowess?

Thiji: I swear that was not my doing. Whatever those explosions were had to come from some other source.

Curly Sue: Now I'm picking up something even bigger on the radar! But it's not coming our way – it appears to be engaging the enemy!

Nora: Looks like we're in the thick of it now, boys! Should we stay the course?

Thiji: Yes, Kafra Nora. The more distance we put ourselves from the fight, the better. (To Raien) Brother, can you see what you can make of that new vessel?

Raien: Sure. Give me a moment.

Jumping into the cloud cover, Raien caught a glimpse of the ones responsible for driving away the assailant some moments ago: a large airship – about the same size as the Shining Heart – but decorated in white and silver, with the emblem of the Church of Odin emblazoned on the hull, but with the distinction of a holy sword driven through the center of the emblem. The sight alone left Raien frozen in awe as he realized precisely with whom they were all dealing; all he uttered was a silent curse to himself.

On the bow of the vessel he could point out a beautiful young maiden with smooth, auburn tresses and slanted, hazel eyes, delicate features, and a calm demeanor like that of Thiji's. She was clad in silver armor, wielding a resplendent tower shield that gleamed like a beacon in the light, as well as a decorative longsword with a similar shine. Flanking her left and right were two priestesses – one in red robes and short, brown hair, the other in blue robes and longer, black hair.

On the bridge sat a woman of silvery hair and with billowing magenta-and-black robes unlike that of her priestly counterparts, caressing a tome in her hand as her ebon lips gave way to a sly grin. A young knight bowed his head to the "priestess" and rushed outside to report to the auburn-haired lady.

"Commander!" he said sharply with a salute, "we've confirmed that the avian creature we intercepted was a bird of prey with a silver crest. We've deducted that it belongs to the Elven Sniper known as Elua of the Battle Vixens! Shall we move in to engage?"

With an eager grin, the paladin nodded her head and turned her attention to the large vessel in the distance.

"Order our allies to strike at the enemy ships, and send the Odin's Will straight towards the flagship - our quarrel is solely with the War Star," she ordered. The Knight gave another salute and hurried back into the bridge as the vessel advanced. They would occasionally be met with volleys of magic and arrows, but the priestess twins utilized a special barrier spell to effectively negate their attacks. Once they were within hailing distance the green-haired Elf would be met with a blast of holy light to the face as the falcon made its way back to her side, blocking the volley with its wing.

"What the f-?!" exclaimed the green-haired elf, whom was indeed none other than Elua, which only led to the conclusion of her blue-haired counterpart being her younger sister Heal-Do, now an Assassin Cross. From below decks a lady of light skin emerged wearing a brown brassiere and short shorts, with scales of bronze protecting the exposed parts of her body. Her hair was short, stopping past her shoulders. Feeling the cool breeze upon her sweat-laden face, she wiped her forehead and hoisted a large, golden battle axe over her shoulder, handing a crimson lance to the woman beside her: a tall woman with piercing red eyes and lavender eyeshadow, flawless skin, scarlet locks and crimson armor. The bangs of her hair covered her left eye, and her lips were of a deep rose red – a figure of beauty and strength combined. Taking the lance from the whitesmith, the Lady Knight rested her hands upon the pommel and gazed upon her surroundings. Breathing deep of the crisp, clean air, the sounds of battle were like an angelic chorus to her. A smirk appeared on her face as she noticed the vessel quickly approaching.

"Looks like things are finally getting interesting… eh, Big Sis?" said the whitesmith, looking up to the Lady Knight with a wink. Before she could respond, they would be interrupted by the incoming vessel, the Odin's Will

"Taking up a new hobby of cloudwatching, are we?" taunted the auburn-haired Paladin. Elua and Mukuhawk snapped out of their stunned state as they glared daggers at their approaching adversaries. "That's funny: I thought the only thing you ladies knew – if I may even deign to call you such – was fighting!"

"Hey! Not true!" retorted Elua. "We fight and look good while doing it! Right, Lupi?!"

With the scarlet knight identified as the elder sister Lupi, the Whitesmith beside her would be none other than Aege. Heal-Do drew her weapons, preparing for a fight whilst the other airships began to fall back, ceasing fire as the guilds to which both major powers were allied formed a wall around their respective banners.

Raien finally snapped out of his stupor and retreated into the cloud cover and landed back on the deck of the Shining Heart, looking as though he's seen a ghost…

Ray: You took your time, Ninja Boy. You must have seen something bad.

Raien: No - worse.

Lee: What's worse than this battle zone?

After taking a moment to compose himself, Raien turned back around and answered Lee's question…

Raien: The Battle Vixens and Holy Saviors are here.

Ray and Lee whispered curses as Thiji sighed in annoyance, wasting no time heading into the bridge to inform the Kafra ladies…

Nora: Curly Sue's pickin' up strange activity on the radar now – ships have slowed down or otherwise stopped entirely!

Curly Sue: Almost like they're trying to form a wall or something! The fighting's quieted down as well!

Thiji: It's because we're not alone up here.

Nora: We've already established that, dear!

Thiji: No, ladies, I mean that the Vixens and the Saviors are up here.

Nora and Curly Sue gasped.

Thiji: And the capital ships must have finally met each other, which explains the sudden calm.

Curly Sue: We're headed straight into them, though! If we stop we'll lose the cloud covering!

Thiji: Up here the clouds appear to move fast, so they should not bear us much mind. If we can lower ourselves to circumvent the blockade we should be all right.

Nora: And if we're found out?

Thiji, sighing: Then we force the rift to reopen.

Nora: All righty! (On Intercom) Boys, we're lowerin' our altitude to see if we can get past that wall they formed! If this doesn't pan out, y'all are gonna have to fight your way through!

Ray: I'll get the sniper rifle ready. If we get into a firefight, then we'll need to shoot 'em down or send 'em back!

Raien: The skies are our domain! Thunderhorse and I won't go down so easily!

Nora worked her magic on the airship console and began their descent, commencing their daring strategy to bypass the blockade. The High Wizard joined with his comrades on the deck and called Icerend from the cold air around him. Curly Sue gazed feverishly at the radar as the signals it picked up grew by the score. Atop them were the War Star and the Odin's Will, still at a standoff.

"Raien, when we get close, fire a lightning bolt in the direction of the Saviors; Lee, strike the Vixens with holy magic," Thiji whispered. The Ninja and the Champion nodded and readied themselves for the signal.

"Wait, which side are the Vixens on, again?" Lee asked, somewhat unsure on where to aim.

"The left; the port side, opposite of Raien," Thiji answered. Meanwhile, tensions above them began to escalate while the other combatants stood idly by for the worst to happen. The elite of the Holy Saviors and the Battle Vixens stared each other down, weapons clutched in hand, ready to defend themselves.

"Your timing couldn't be any better, Youmei," spoke Aege as she approached the edge of the deck. The Paladin looked on in slight shock, somewhat surprised that their adversaries had finally begun to acknowledge them by name. "We were beginning to fall asleep from the boring show you and your allies provided." Jeers and curses from the Saviors' allies filled the air, but the auburn-haired Paladin remained unyielding in her gaze, giving only a scoff in response.

"Always thinking about the next big fight," Youmei replied. "It truly is a shame that your savagery overpowers your self-proclaimed beauty; Neanderthals to the very end." The Saviors would then be met in kind with catcalls and taunts from the Vixens' own allies – even some from Elua who took slight offense. Lupi slowly stepped down from the bridge, her lance hoisted on her back as the wind blew the hair from her eye to get a long, hard look at Youmei. "Struck a nerve, have I? The feral alpha finally makes her appearance."

From below the jeering could be heard from the Shining Heart. Thiji had surmised that things are beginning to heat up much faster than expected. Curly Sue gulped in anxiety, trying her hardest to maintain her cool.

"We have learned much and gained even more since Britoniah, sinners!" spoke Momiji, the red priestess.

"You will not best Odin's chosen so easily!" the blue priestess Botan followed. She and Momiji would then draw their respective halves of the Divine Cross.

"You face the combined might of the Saviors and its allies!" spoke the "High Priestess" Tsubaki. "And I, too, have tapped into great power."

"You're more than welcome to prove you're not all talk at any time, little ones," chided Lupi in a calm tone. "But I warn you: my flame has become much brighter and fiercer than what you've experienced before."

"Retreat, and we will consider sparing you further casualties!" threatened Heal-Do as she held her katars across her chest.

"We was going to offer you the same ultimatum! As if we could trust an Assassin!" Momiji answered.

The jeering between the two powers intensified – it was as good a time as any to commence the plan. Thiji gave a nod to Raien and Lee, and right on cue, they would fire a bolt of lightning and holy magic respectively, shooting forth from the cloud cover to strike at the capital ships. Everyone on board the War Star and Odin's Will vessels would be knocked on their feet from the unexpected impact.

"Such savagery!" cried a Crusader. "The Battle Vixens have struck first like the war-craving mongrels they are!"

"No! It is the Saviors who attacked us!" said an Alchemist. "Their love for their so-called God urged them to deal the first blow!"

Lupi got back up to her feet, blowing some hair back into place. With a light growl she rose her new and improved lance and pointed it at the Odin's Will, emitting an orange light and sent a large fireball at the Saviors, initiating the battle.

"Sisters! Are you hurt?!" Youmei cried as she helped her companions up. She turned and saw the flaming sphere coming her way, and, with quick reflexes, rose her gleaming shield, blocking the attack.

"Always hiding behind that shield of hers…" Lupi seethed. Her sisters readied their weapons whilst the Saviors rallied behind Youmei, poised to strike back. "Showtime, girls."

"Allies! The Vixens resume their attack! Strike back at once!" commanded Youmei as she rose her blade Excalibur in the air.

The battle zone had reignited with conflict, and the strategy was a success. Nora continued the flight while Curly Sue congratulated the boys of White Trinity. Now with their enemies behind them, it seemed that the coast would be clear, enough so that Raien and his pet lifted the veil and exited the battle zone as they were now in clear skies. The sounds of battle began to drown out behind them.

"That went better than expected!" Nora said with a sigh of relief. "We're still on schedule; Juno should be within sight in about thirty minutes!"

The boys used this time to relax and enjoy the rest of the cruise. Back in the thick of combat, the elite of the Holy Saviors and Battle Vixens were fending off invading forces from their capital ships while numerous other vessels clashed throughout the area. Heal-Do had knocked out a Soul Linker whose emblem was familiar to her. It concerned her enough that she turned to address her other sisters…

"Big Sister," she started, "something isn't right… Some of the foes we fell are under… White Trinity's banner. Yet I do not see them."

"They charge into the fray without their leaders…?" Aege uttered in astonishment. "How commendable. Shows a lot about White Trinity's character that their allies would fight on without them. But it's also not like them to miss the call to action, either."

"It's that Wizard…" Lupi stated with a hushed voice, gazing off the starboard bow to gaze at the Saviors' skirmish. "He's always thinking; he's always scheming. I know he's out here somewhere. He couldn't have possibly just ignored all of this." She went back up to the bridge to order the helmsman to continue advancing through the battle zone. "Elua, keep them off us. We're cutting through this nonsense!"

"Aye-aye!" the Sniper acknowledged as she hopped on her trusted pet and flew around the perimeter of the War Star, harrying the Odin's Will with blasts of wind. Youmei tried her best to deflect the strikes all the while.

"They're not even paying attention to us anymore!" Tsubaki pointed out as the War Star began to fly through the battle zone. "Do they consider us as so little a threat?"

"If they will not give us a fight, then we will command their undivided attention ourselves!" Youmei declared. "Saviors! Follow the War Star! All other units, full retreat! Odin's Will shall carry on this task alone! Allfather be with you!"

The Holy Saviors' allies would begin turning back around towards Rune-Midgarts. Those aligned with the Battle Vixens would give chase, leaving the War Star isolated – which is just what they wanted. Such an encounter should only be settled by the elite. Further ahead the White Trinity members patted themselves on the back as they continued their trek towards Juno. The clouds that enveloped the battle zone would now give way to clear, blue skies, though unbeknownst to them, the Battle Vixens would soon be at their heels, with the Holy Saviors in tow.

"I don't think my heart can take so much more excitement, Nora. I wasn't made for all this combat!" Curly Sue sighed as she kept herself cool with a convenient fan she had stored in her apron pocket.

"A little rush never hurts anybody, dear! Just stay cool!" the teal Kafra reassured. She then approached the intercom to address the boys… "Hey, White Trinity! We just received contact from Juno Traffic Control: we'll be flyin' into their airspace within minutes, and will be under jurisdiction of the Schwarzwald Republic!"

This good news caused the boys to let out a cheer, celebrating their success in circumventing the blockade. Thiji, though eager to express his joy over another successful strategy, was still on high alert – his experience with the rival guilds kept him wary, and a foe as tenacious as the Battle Vixens would not be routed so easily.

Moving towards the stern of the ship, he could make out a silhouetted vessel breaking through the cloud cover, with another emerging moments after the first. His eyes squinted, knowing full well how events will soon unfold.

Suddenly, a streak of brown and green zoomed past Thiji, almost knocking away his hat. The boys' jubilation would cease when they saw the streaks, circling around the Shining Heart once before retreating. Ray, Lee, and Raien looked at each other in confusion, frozen in their revelry, before joining Thiji and meeting his gaze to find the approaching vessels.

Curly Sue would pause from her fanning when she heard the radar beeping rapidly, noticing two large signatures making a beeline towards the Shining Heart. She turned to Nora to address the issue, but she would find a soft hand on her head as Nora kept her gaze fixed on the horizon…

"I know, Sue," Nora spoke in a serious tone, which is rare for her. Meanwhile, the streak returned toward the ship as a lady touched down on the deck, holding her left arm out for the bird on which to perch itself.

"It's them, Lupi. You were right! White Trinity slipped right past us!" Elua confirmed. This news made the Lady Knight's eyes wide with eagerness, her hands practically trembling on her lance as her lips curled into a sneer.

"Finally…" she seethed with a sharp exhale. She lifted her lance and pointed it straight at the Shining Heart. "Full speed ahead! We meet our rivals in battle at long last!"

The War Star activated its rainbow, fin-like sails and increased its speed, trailing away from the Odin's Will that pursued them.

"Sister Youmei! The War Star is escaping!" Botan cried.

"Cowards! Do they so fear our God's divine will?!" Momiji followed. "Let us pursue them, Sister!"

"It is not we they are escaping, sisters…" Youmei said as she gazed past the War Star and towards the vessel up ahead. A light smile could be seen on her face, as if relieved to see an old friend, but that smile would soon give way to a scowl as she pointed her blade towards the War Star… "White Trinity has arrived. This must be why they were so eager to escape the confusion of the battle zone. They sought out bigger prey."

"Then they truly do value us so little if they would break through our lines so wantonly," Tsubaki said in disgust. Youmei nodded, acknowledging the Witch's comment.

"We will meet them. Let us proceed, but stay your weapons. We will not want an international incident," the Paladin ordered.

Try as they did, Nora attempted to increase the Shining Heart's speed so as to get away from the Battle Vixens, to no avail. Soon the boys of White Trinity would be met with the shining colors of the War Star, the four femme fatale elites of the Battle Vixens eagerly awaiting to see their faces again with weapons drawn. Raien, Lee, and Ray ducked below the railing of the deck in a vain effort to conceal themselves… which only made things awkward as Thiji simply stared at them wondering why they bothered spending the effort…

Elua, with bow drawn: Come on, boys! You know there's no hiding from us at this point!

The three gave a collective sigh and slowly rose to their feet, revealing themselves. Lee took to a defensive stance whilst Ray and Raien readied their respective weapons as well…

Elua: Thought you could slip past us, huh?

Ray: Actually, we did just that! You all just caught up to us eventually.

Aege: Your witty repartee is refreshing; we almost missed it.

Raien: We could say the same thing, sweetheart.

Heal-Do: Much has happened over the past year. You will not find us so easily outdone now!

Lee: Some common ground at last. I was waiting for things to get interesting. Though I was hoping this would be a smooth ride.

Lupi fixed her eyes on Thiji, whom was staring at the others until he felt himself being watched; his gaze would then meet hers…

Lupi: You're awfully silent, Thiji.

Ray: Ooh, she actually referred to you by name! That's gotta count for something!

Lupi: Scheming as always…?

Thiji: If scheming on the proper way to describe how beautiful you look this fine morning, then yes.

Lupi, grinning: Thank you. Though flattery can only get you so far. Surprised we caught you out in the open?

Thiji: No, actually. I counted on it after our experiences together. Your persistence had always been your greatest trait.

The Lady Knight scoffed lightly and brushed a few locks of hair from her face.

Heal-Do: It has been a while, Lord Thiji. I am different than before.

Thiji: I see that. You've grown much and learned even more so. But will that be enough…?

Elua: An Elven Assassin Cross? A Battle Vixen? That's already clear-cut indicators that she's got more than what it takes to take you four on!

Raien: Five. Don't forget Thunderhorse.

The feline gives a proud roar. Aege arches a brow as she hoists her axe over her shoulder.

Aege: … That's a lion.

Raien: I know.

Elua: Wait, here comes the Odin's Will!

Cue the Holy Saviors' airship swooping in between the two, the Priestess twins facing White Trinity and the Paladin and Witch facing the Vixens…

Botan: Hail, White Trinity!

Momiji: We are honored to meet you all in the heavens!

Lee: Hello, girls.

Ray: How's it goin'?

Momiji: May Odin favor us in the coming days.

Lupi: Your "God" won't save you from the Vixens' wrath!

Youmei: Typical response from a savage such as yourself. They were only engaging in a pleasant conversation after being away for over a year. At least White Trinity exercises restraint and honor in combat.

Heal-Do: You're one to talk, Paladin! You got a dark priestess right next to you!

Tsubaki: Mind your tongue, little girl… You will be wise to not start a Witch.

Heal-Do: Hypocrites! They label our proud guild as savages, yet they house those who practice with dark magic!

A large, ivory serpent coiled itself up Tsubaki's body, stopping at her left arm and hissing threateningly at the Vixens.

Raien: Are we about to witness a catfight?

Thiji: Calm yourself, brother.

Youmei: Yes, Tsubaki is a Witch. But our God works in ways most mysterious, and we will sanction her as our own sister.

Tsubaki: Youmei, you…

Youmei, turning to Tsubaki: We need all the aid we can get, Tsubaki. I self-reflected a great deal after the events in Payon, and I have come to terms with it all; I forgiv –

Lupi: Save the mushiness for Jawaii, you two. I pursued you all to hear my blade sing, not listen to sisterly romance.

Ray: But that's a lance you're carrying; it's not really a blade.

Aege: It's an expression, dummy!

Remembering an earlier conversation from Kafra Nora, Thiji stepped away from the confrontation and made his way to the bow of the ship…

Thiji: While I enjoy exchanging retorts as much as the next person, we've a City of Sages to catch.

Lupi: Don't you dare move…

The Lady Knight's fury builds as her lance begins to catch fire. She raises and points past the Holy Saviors to Thiji, whom was still making his way to the front of the vessel, following his movements with her weapon.

Lupi: We're not done here, High Wizard. Don't. Move. Another step.

Raien: And… we're back to the naming people by class again.

Thiji: Yes, we are.

Elua, nocking an arrow: Uh-uh! We waited too long for you to just fly by us a second time without giving us a fight!

Thiji: Then enjoy being hunted down by the authorities, ladies.

Lupi: What?

Thiji: As of a few moments ago we have arrived into territory belonging to the Schwarzwald Republic. If they see a sanctioned vessel being fired upon – the three most famous guilds from Rune-Midgarts, especially – they will be held under the full extent of the law.

Aege, dryly: You're shitting me right now.

Heal-Do: He… he can't be serious!

Thiji: Captain, let us continue on to Juno. We've spent enough time in the heavens.

As if right on cue, the captain (Kafra Nora, obviously) moved the ship away from the other vessels and continued about its way. After a taunting scoff from Youmei, the Odin's Will would follow suit whilst Lupi and her sisters looked on in annoyance. After a beat, Elua dropped her bow and arrow in frustration and placed her hands on her hips, shaking her head…

Elua: Outsmarted by that damned Wizard again!

Lupi, exasperatedly: Captain, bring us to port…

With yet another massive bullet dodged, White Trinity and the Shining Heart begin the last leg of their flight as a large city came into view. As they made their way closer to the city they would be greeted by smaller vessels bearing the crest of Schwarzwald. One such airship's crewmen boarded the deck of the Shining Heart, greeting White Trinity with deep bows.

"Good day, White Trinity," greeted one of the crewmen. "We hope your flight was an enjoyable one. We will escort you to the airport where we will check you in and officially welcome you into the City of Sages. From there, you will be free to move about as you please as you continue your competition within the country."

"Thank you, sir! We can't wait to get started!" exclaimed Ray. As the three took in the sights as they made their approach, Thiji went back to the bridge to check up on Nora and Curly Sue. After opening the door he would be greeted with the clamor of angry women and scattered laughter – Nora's colleagues were all on-screen, yelling at Curly Sue in what seemed to be jealousy…

Blossom: What the heck?! You were how high off the ground?!

Pavianne: That's no fair! I wanted to join in the ride, too!

Nora: Girls, girls! Calm down! We're not too far from HQ; you probably saw the action from where y'all were!

Glaris: It was an interesting spectacle, that's for sure. I heard you ferried White Trinity to safety past that gruesome blockade. That's to be commended.

Curly Sue: Aww, Glaris! You're too kind, but all I did was look at the radar! I was scared stiff being so close to a combat zone!

Nora: Yet she's still breathin'! You're a war hero now, sweetie!

Blossom: Darnit, I'm so salty! We're down here slaving away and Curly Sue got the experience of a lifetime!

Curly Sue: I was running back and forth all day; I could be a cross-country star!

Nora: We thank y'all for keepin' things in check down there! We'll meet back up in Aldebaran soon. We gotta get these boys checked in and then we can round up the other branches and enjoy some Mastela shakes – on me!

The Krew cheered and told the rest of the Kafra in Headquarters. Thiji shook his head and approached the celebrating Curly Sue…

Thiji: We appreciate your getting us through that mess.

Curly Sue: No problem, Mister Thiji! If it weren't for Miss Nora, I'd be frozen with fear right now! She's definitely the pinnacle of fearlessness!

Nora: Shut up, Sue! You're makin' me blush!

Thiji: Which reminds me: How are you two going to leave without being spotted?

Nora: Don't worry 'bout that – they knew we were comin'!

Thiji: And nobody bothered to ask?

Nora: 'Course not! Remember that it's Zonda Corp. that runs things in Schwarzvald!

Curly Sue: Exactly – as far as they can tell, we're no more than guests like you four!

Thiji: How convenient. Again, thank you.

With their journey across the skies now complete, Kafra Nora, Kafra Curly sue, and Thiji, along with the rest of White Trinity, would finally arrive at their destination: Juno, Capital of the Schwarzvald Republic. The War Star and Odin's Will could be seen in the distance as they disembarked from their respective ships and entered the airport.

A receptionist greeted White Trinity and the Kafra employees, verifying their identities and welcoming them into the city. Ray and Lee were amazed at the advanced technology displayed throughout the area, with machines the likes of which they've never seen. The receptionist provided them with a map of the area, detailing key locations within the city and the surrounding area, from the Magic Academy to the east, to the Biology-Engineering Institude to the north, to the Sage Castle to the west, which she heavily recommended to the High Wizard. Being the strategist of the guild, Thiji took custody of the map and did his utmost to study it.

"Since we can't go back to our own territories in Rune-Midgarts, we will need a new base of operations for Schwarzwald…" Thiji thought to himself as he inspected the map. With their registration and tour of the city now complete, they exited the airport and found themselves at the town square. Magnificent buildings surrounded them as visiting alchemists and blacksmiths alike entered the city to sell their wares; sages contemplating over the mysteries of magic, and guards chasing the occasional Wild Rose around the city.

"Well, boys, this is where we part ways for now!" Nora said. "My Krew's been assigned by the higher-ups to get a foothold in Schwarzwald's door, so there's work to be done!"

"But first we're gonna celebrate over some Mastela Shakes!" Curly Sue cheered. "As always, thank you for choosing the Kafra Corporation for all your adventuring needs!"

"Kafra, you say? My, how adorable!" said a cool voice. A voice which made Curly Sue's hair stand on end as she and Nora slowly turned around to reveal a young man with a mane of hair twice as long as Thiji's, but blonde, with bangs covering his right eye. He sported white gloves, a red-and-brown long coat with gold trim, and brown pants. "This day just became a lot more interesting, I see. How goes it, my friends?"

"Zonda Corp…" Curly Sue growled, steam practically blowing out of her ears.

"Welcome to Juno, Capital of the Schwarzwald Republic. You must be White Trinity. We have heard all about your exploits in Rune-Midgarts and are humbled by your presence," said the Zonda Corp. employee. "My name is Maximillian, or Max for short, and we of Zonda Corp. are here to provide you with only the finest of services during your stay in Schwarzwald."

"We've no need of your assistance, Maxie!" Curly Sue taunted. Nora calmed her down whilst Thiji and the others looked on in confusion.

"Come, now, dear ones. We need not be so hostile, for we are both representing a common cause, are we not?" Max stated. "Of course, we welcome the challenge you all provide for us with the coming election."

"Elections?" Ray asked in curiosity. "What are those?"

"I'd be happy to explain!" Max answered. "Every few months or so we team up with the beautiful ladies of the Kafra Corporation to engage in elections pertaining to teleport services to dungeons! Whichever company wins, they will provide teleportation services to certain areas within the land."

"That's it?" Raien questioned. "That doesn't seem so bad."

"Well, the Kafra Corporation at least offers free passes!" Nora retorted.

"Free passes?" gasped Max. "My dear Nora, you may be of considerably high standing within the Kafra corporate ladder, but even you of all people must know that money is what makes this world go around; it is what keeps a company running! Our victories ensure Zonda Corp. lives and breathes!"

"Good luck, Max, 'cause I'm the one y'all are dealin' with, now! And this girl plays to win!" Nora warned in a proud tone.

"Hahaha… indeed, my dear. Until then, we thank you for choosing Zonda Corp. Keep it cool, White Trinity!" Maxwell said as he waved farewell and continued about his way to meet with the others.

"Grr…! They're so arrogant that it makes my skin crawl!" Curly Sue grumbled. "We gotta win this next election and knock them down a few pegs!"

"And knock 'em down we will, Sue!" Nora assured. "We'll talk about it over the shakes. For now we gotta leave these boys be! See y'all later, White Trinity! We'll keep y'all updated on the Frontier!"

They waved farewell as the Kafra ladies made their way south, exiting the city. Now left alone, White Trinity was free to explore this new realm as they pleased…

Ray: Holy crap, this place makes Prontera look like a village!

Raien: I think I just found my new home! High-tech; above the clouds… yeah, I can definitely live here for quite some time.

Lee: Think we could find any places to train here? What's the map say, Thiji?

Thiji: From what I inspected, there is a Magic Academy to the northeast, and the Sage Castle is north in the Island of Glory, then due west, past the Biology-Engineering Institute. If you wish to train or hunt, the El Mes Plateau beyond the city limits is a good place to start. There is also the Nogg Road a short ways southeast and someplace known as Juperos in the El Mes Gorge.

Ray: Perfect! Looks like there's plenty of action to keep us busy while we wait for the next installation to reveal itself.

Thiji: We just cheated death over the high skies of Rune-Midgarts and you're already itching to fight?

Ray: We have to hone our new skills, don't we? Besides, we don't know if the others may be doing the same thing, and we don't want to fall behind!

Raien: Which reminds me: Thiji, won't we need a place to rest and relax while we're in Schwarzwald?

Thiji: I was just thinking about that, brother. The nearby inn may prove inadequate for our operations. So I've only come to one conclusion.

He turns back towards the airport and points at the large vessel from which they came.

Thiji: The Shining Heart. It is a transport vessel, and is well-equipped to accommodate us until we establish a foothold in the Schwarzwald Republic.

Raien: Oh, snap! Good idea!

Ray: We won't even need to worry about supplies or consumables, either!

Lee: And we have the bridge where we can contact others from the mainland!

After a moment, Maximillian from Zonda Corp. would return, a simper on his face.

Maximillian: Hello again, White Trinity! I have just finished making the final arrangements for your stay. Your vessel, the Shining Heart, will serve as your home in the VIP docks we've reserved for you and your guild!

Ray: Thanks, Max!

Maximillian: Not a problem! We of Zonda Corp. would not be where we are today if not for our hospitality!

Thiji, thinking: And apparent massive financial backing…

Maximillian: If there is anything you require, seek out myself or any of my fellow employees strewn throughout the city. Enjoy your stay in Juno!

The blonde-haired man gave a bow before leaving the boys once more to visit the Magic Academy. White Trinity made their way out of the town square to revisit the Shining Heart while they planned their next course of action.

Meanwhile, over at the Odin's Will, Youmei was at the bridge speaking with several guildmates bearing the emblem of the Holy Saviors…

Savior Knight: Commander Youmei, ma'am. We were able to successfully disengage from the battle zone following your pursuit of the War Star. The Vixens' allies offered little trouble, however.

Youmei: Any casualties?

Savior Priestess: Ma'am, several ships were destroyed during the initial engagement, but no one was fatally injured or killed in action during.

Youmei: That is a relief. Thank you all for seeing our brothers, sisters and allies to safety. Offer what relief you can to the guilds under us, for if the Battle Vixens intend on sending reinforcements to Schwarzwald, we must be ready to intercept.

Savior Knight: Yes, Commander! There is also another report we would like to give, with your permission.

Youmei: Proceed.

Savior Knight: The guilds serving under White Trinity were valuable in our flight back to Rune-Midgarts. It was their host who suffered the brunt of their attacks.

Youmei: Those savages… Our opponents they may be, they have been the closest we've had to friends since the Emperium Frontier began.

Savior Knight: Yes, ma'am. They seem to have shown little to no interest in engaging our forces, and instead focused their efforts on attacking White Trinity.

Youmei: That scarlet wench and her overwhelming desire for battle are to blame for this… How many were lost?

Savior Priestess: From what one of their Rogues told me, ma'am, they lost at least sixty percent of their forces during the retreat – some fatally wounded. Fortunately, there were no reported deaths as their healers were able to put them on the mend.

Youmei: I see. Thank you again for the report. Gather our forces and prepare for the flight back to Schwarzwald. If White Trinity's alliesrequest aid, provide it to them. I owe their leader a debt of gratitude, and I will not have our reputation sullied through selfishness.

Savior Priestess & Knight: Yes, Commander!

Youmei: Odin be with you. Commander Youmei out.

Ending the transmission, Youmei exited the bridge and moved toward the bow of the Odin's Will. Gazing out into the vast sky, she wondered how events were going to unfold at this point, now temporarily cut off from her allies after the fight broke out over the heavens. Once more, it was down to just herself and her companions who made up guild's elite.

Tsubaki and the Priestess twins return to the Odin's Will, where they find Youmei contemplating by her lonesome…

Tsubaki: Sister. Sorry to interrupt your melodramatic introspection.

Youmei: It's fine. I actually needed that snide remark of yours to take my mind off things. It almost feels like we are back to square one, when events in the Frontier were just starting.

Botan: Do not despair, Sister Youmei! We will succeed in any realm with the light on our side!

Momiji: Our allies are formidable; the Vixens and the Trinities will be left in awe by our strength!

The Paladin gave a grin to her sisters.

Youmei: Thank you. I take it we are all cleared to use this vessel as our base?

Tsubaki: Yes. We're free to move about the country.

Botan: We'll go and learn more about this land and spread the word of the Saviors!

Youmei: Go with Odin, my sisters. I must remain here as I've an important call to make…

Tsubaki: Suit yourself. Botan. Momiji. With me.

Botan & Momiji: Yes, Lady Tsubaki!

The Priestesses made their way back to the airport, leaving Youmei alone once more. She stared out into the blue for a few short moments before heading back to the bridge of the ship.

Meanwhile, on the War Star, Lupi was seen in her quarters, tending to her hair. Heal-Do and Aege would enter the room moments later…

Heal-Do: Big Sis, we're all set. The War Star is registered and we're all ready to begin our campaign in Schwarzwald.

Lupi: Beautifully done, sisters…

She places her comb in a drawer and smooths her hair with her hands for a few seconds before turning to face the Assassin Cross and Whitesmith…

Lupi: We're off into the El Mes Plateau.

Aege: Whoa – so soon, Lupi? What's the rush?

Lupi: We're gonna show Schwarzwald that their technology doesn't mean shit. We have time to kill before the Frontier continues, so we're going to make good use of it. And what better way to show our dominance than a little dungeon run?

Aege: Ooh, baby, I like the sound of that! What place did you have in mind?

A gust of wind blew over Aege and Heal-Do as they looked outside to see their sister Elua had just returned from somewhere. Lupi got out of her seat and exited the quarters…

Lupi: Just in time.

Elua: Hey, sisters! The Nogg Road is a short ways southeast from here! A perfect place for us to start!

Aege: The Nogg Road…?

Elua: It's also more commonly known as the Magma Dungeon! Fiery beasts galore await us down there – perfect for Lupi and Heal-Do!

Heal-Do: It'll be a pleasure, my sisters. I won't fail you!

The Battle Vixens commence their operation with due haste, finding the closest Zonda Corp. employee to teleport them just outside of the city.

Over at the Shining Heart, Raien and Thunderhorse looked over the ship to survey any damage it may have taken during the trek…

Thiji: Anything, brother?

Raien: No significant damage, thank goodness. I was expecting us to at least take some hits when the Vixens spotted us.

Thiji: The timely interference from the Saviors can attest to our safety. But that may not happen so often here. We're back to the three-way battlefront from when this all started.

Raien: Yup. And our friends back in Rune-Midgarts are fighting the good fight, too. But the way I see it, my man – we're on our own.

Thiji: Wouldn't have it any other way. Just we four will be enough to win the day.

Raien: Heh. Damn right.

Lee would then emerge from above decks to alert his comrades.

Lee: Hey, Thiji? Raien? There's a beeping noise going on in the bridge.

Thiji: Hm?

Lee: Ray and I aren't exactly sure how it works, but maybe you could try?

The High Wizard and Shinobi hurried to the bridge. Thiji sat in the helmsman's chair while Ray took his place in the captain's seat, Raien and Lee flanking him on either side. After pressing a few buttons, the screen would turn on, revealing Kafra Curly Sue.

Curly Sue: White Trinity, this is Kafra Curly Sue. Can you read me?

Thiji: Yes, Miss Curly Sue. What is it?

Curly Sue: We wanted to let you know that we made it safely to Headquarters! I also wanted to extend my thanks to you personally for helping us get through that crazy fight in one piece!

Ray: It's what we do, Miss! It'd look bad for us if we couldn't escort a Kafra employee to safety!

Curly Sue: I'll say! Everyone is outright jealous of me right now!

The rest of her colleagues can be heard bickering off-screen.

Curly Sue: Uh-oh! Speak of the devil – I better go and calm them down! I'm sending you over to Kafra Nora. See you, Trinities!

The transmission cuts over to Kafra Nora, sitting in front of a desk with folded hands. On her left is Kafra Blossom, greeting White Trinity with a bow.

Kafra Blossom: Hello, White Trinity! On behalf of the Kafra Corporation, we humbly extend our thanks and gratitude for your service today. You helped bring back our beloved Kafra Nora and Kafra Curly Sue to our headquarters in Aldebaran. The higher-ups have been informed of the events that unfolded over the skies above Rune-Midgarts, and for your efforts, we will be sending these supplies over to you.

Kafra Nora snaps her fingers and, as if on cue, Kafra Blossom reveals a large box from beneath the desk, decorated with the Kafra logo.

Ray: Wait! Wait, I don't think we need any more supplies, ma'am.

Lee: Yeah – the stuff here should last us all the way through our Schwarzwald campaign.

Kafra Nora: Trust me, boys: you're gonna love what's in this here box!

The teal Kafra snaps her fingers once again, having Blossom opening it to reveal its contents: a shining cache of what appeared to be golden yellow fruit.

Kafra Nora: Plucked straight from the Tree of Life itself, these blessed berries can fully restore the strength of any and all who ingest 'em!

Thiji: Yggdrasil Berries…?

Raien: With those, we'd be unstoppable! Thanks, Nora!

Kafra Nora: This was ordered by our bigwigs, so we were more than happy to oblige! We'll send 'em to you before the next installation opens up. In the meantime, enjoy Schwarzwald! Feel free to come to us here and Aldebaran, and we'll give ya'll a hero's welcome!

Kafra Blossom: Thank you again for your service, and we thank you for choosing the Kafra Corporation for all your adventuring needs!

They wave farewell as the transmission fades, and the boys (sans Thiji) cheer in unison.

Ray: Oh, hell yeah! We're gonna use those berries and supercharge our training regimen!

Lee: You got that right! Let's find some action already!

Raien: I wouldn't mind a good fight before things start getting interesting. You'll catch up, Thiji?

Thiji: Sure thing. I'll make sure the Shining Heart is secure before I join you all.

The Shinobi nods as he exits the bridge with Ray and Lee. While Thiji familiarizes himself with the controls, he receives another call, which struck him as odd. Who else would request an audience with White Trinity, other than the Kafra and Zonda Corporations…?

Throwing caution to the wind, he pushes the flashing button and activates the screen, anxious to identify the messenger.

"Sir Thiji," said a familiar voice. The High Wizard's eyes widened: auburn hair; silvery-white robes; delicate features…

"L-Lady Youmei…" he stuttered. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"I wanted to commend you yet again for your intellect winning you the day," the Paladin congratulated. "Though your attacks nearly struck one of my comrades' ships. I knew it was not intended to hit its mark, but again, we appreciate you taking our livelihoods into consideration."

Her grin then turned into a frown as she began to bear a more serious countenance…

"I wanted to inform you of the aftermath of the skirmish, if you will allow me."

"I knew we had allies under the banner of White Trinity heading to Schwarzwald to reinforce us," started Thiji, "but we dared not risk compromising ourselves to make sure. Please, Lady Youmei, by all means, proceed."

"During the retreat, the Battle Vixens overtook and engaged our forces. When they noticed our forces had begun to fall back, your allies followed suit, but intercepted the Vixens' own forces. In the process," Youmei explained. "Your team suffered heavy losses in order to cover our escape back to Prontera."

This news struck the High Wizard hard. He knew that there were bound to be some casualties in such a dangerous and unknown frontier. He looked back to Youmei kept his bearing.

"Were there any deaths?" he simply asked. To his relief, Youmei shook her head.

"No, surprisingly," she replied, "but some injuries were caused, though not grievous enough to warrant attention. I sent my own healers to assist the guilds who suffered the greatest damage."

"This relieves me, Lady Youmei. Thank you," Thiji said with a smile.

"No, Sir Thiji. It was nothing," the Paladin responded. "I still owe you for aiding me in Niflheim. I know it, and Excalibur knows it. I would not be here without you. Perhaps the day we may acknowledge each other as friends may soon come to fruition."

The High Wizard beamed, hearing Youmei echo the words he once spoke to her a while back. With a bow of her head, she ended the transmission, leaving the High Wizard alone. He would then finally rise from his chair and exit the bridge, staring at the distant El Mes Plateau from the deck…

"I am not surprised the Battle Vixens dealt the first blow, but we have just returned from a year-long hiatus, and things are already getting intense. So long as we remain within the sanctuary, we will need not worry about being attacked, though it will be strange having to share a city with two other guilds. Everyone has gotten stronger and wiser – but so have I. I'll be looking forward to showing our opponents what Icerend can do."

Conjuring the halberd in his hand, he gave it a long, hard look before turning to the gangplank that connected the ship to the airport. Remembering that his friends were out in the El Mes Plateau to train, Thiji would begin making his way out of the city to rendezvous with the rest of White Trinity.

It was now time for the second half of the Emperium Frontier to commence within a region unknown to them, with new dangers and obstacles to overcome. What further tribulations will await the three guilds' elite in the Schwarzwald Republic?